The diagram below helps demonstrate the huge impact that forensic laboratories (crime labs) have on our community safety, homeland security, and our nation's criminal justice system. Forensic labs are a critical key to solving crime, preventing crime, and saving lives. Most labs are undersized, underequipped, understaffed, and overwhelmed with backlogged evidence analysis requests.

With the exception of the recent surge of nationwide and local media attention in regard to backlogged rape kit DNA analysis, most other critical shortcomings of forensic laboratories are not widely known. Many assume that if a law enforcement agency submits evidence to their local forensic crime laboratory or to their regional or state lab, the evidence will receive timely attention. The lab analysis results are often assumed to be available for use by those LE agencies, prosecutors, etc., as they are needed. The results of forensic laboratory analysis are also needed by the defense community in order to help make our system of criminal justice work as it should.

The processes are necessary for confirming the presence and quantity of alcohol or other drugs in the blood of persons involved in motor vehicle traffic collisions, DUIs, etc.; and for determining the type of substances suspected to be controlled substances, illicit drugs, etc.

NevadaCSI argues that the nation-wide forensic crime lab analysis shortage is due in large part to the lack of ability, authority, and/or desire of forensic laboratories and their parent organizations to publicly admit the shortfalls that have existed throughout the U.S. for decades.

The diagram also illustrates some of the types of activities to consider when a lab may expect to receive requests to process, analyze, and compare evidence. In a significant number of crimes, the actions of the forensic laboratory must proceed in order for law enforcement officers to develop investigative leads, identify specific subjects, eliminate suspected persons who are not involved, identify potential sources of footwear and tire impressions, and other activities.

Regardless of the number of officers a law enforcement agency has, forensic laboratory scientists/technicians (most of whom are non-sworn "civilians" in southern Nevada) are the persons who conduct the laboratory evidence processing, fingerprint comparison and identification, DUI blood alcohol and blood drug analysis, controlled substance/drug analysis, DNA analysis, firearms evidence analysis... and more.

Crime scene personnel (CSIs) in southern Nevada, most of whom are also civilians, work closely with laboratory personnel in the collection, documentation, processing, and analysis of evidence from scenes of crime, during autopsies at the coroner’s office, at follow-up locations, etc. The product of their work is also often provided to the laboratory for further examination, comparison, identification to particular subjects, etc. This necessary step significantly adds to the existing forensic laboratory workload and subsequent backlogs.

The processes are necessary for confirming the presence and quantity of alcohol or other drugs in the blood of persons involved in motor vehicle traffic collisions, DUIs, etc.; and for determining the type of substances suspected to be controlled substances, illicit drugs, etc.

Southern Nevada does not have sufficient forensic laboratory capacity to process all of the available evidence from crime scenes. A lot of the existing evidence cannot be analyzed in a timely manner, and still more evidence will never be analyzed under the current limiting conditions. Much of the available evidence sits on shelves without undergoing processing and analysis, and as a direct result: crimes remain unsolved, suspects roam freely, and additional people and businesses needlessly become victims.

The region has two publicly funded/operated forensic “crime” laboratories. A small, 4,500 sq. ft. facility is operated by the City of Henderson. A second, much larger laboratory is operated by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD). The LVMPD lab has the ability to conduct DNA analysis, however, their capacity is extremely limited. As a direct result, thousands of untested rape kits sit on the shelves (additional information provided below). In addition to rape kit backlogs, there are thousands of crimes committed every year, in addition to rapes, that can also be solved—and many more prevented—through DNA analysis.

As of March 2016, LVMPD reportedly had the ability to analyze approximately fifteen different drugs in blood. Henderson can screen, confirm, and quantify (amount) of over seventy-two different substances in blood. Agencies have asked for help from Henderson's lab due to LVMPD’s limited capabilities and capacity in blood alcohol, blood drug analysis; and the analysis of controlled substances and illicit drugs. However, the small Henderson facility cannot physically support additional scientists or analytical instruments; so they cannot increase capacity.

Together, the LVMPD and Henderson labs support approximately 73% of the State's population. Clark County reported nearly 80% of the UCR crimes in Nevada for 2014. As evidence is outsourced to some private and other government labs; capability and capacity lags, and backlogs continue to exist. Some very important, viable evidence sits on the shelves and will not be examined at all, and Justice is not served all.


The small Henderson lab is staffed with highly qualified forensic scientists, analysts, and technicians however, the facility is inadequate for its original intended purpose and cannot adequately meet all of our communities' needs. The “temporary” 4,500 sq. ft. facility has been repurposed, repaired, and upgraded by several owners over the past 28 years. There is no room for additional personnel, functional areas, and related instrumentation/equipment.

The building cannot be upgraded or expanded further, and has numerous electrical and other problems that are cost prohibitive to repair or replace, further increasing the need to build a new, much larger, facility.

Henderson’s forensic lab does not have DNA analysis capability, nor firearms evidence analysis/comparison as LVMPD does. Those functional areas can only be added, and existing capacity increased, with the construction of a large facility

The Henderson Forensic Lab conducts all blood alcohol, blood drug, and controlled substance/illicit drug analysis; and fingerprint/footwear/tire print comparisons; for the City of Henderson and Boulder City. Occasionally, Henderson conducts similar analysis for other agencies in the valley and in other Nevada counties. Henderson has the operational capability (as of March 2016) to screen, confirm, and quantify (determine amount) of over seventy-two different substances in blood, including some of the newer “spices” (synthetic cannabinoids) and some of the street-popular inhalants.

Due to Henderson’s extended blood alcohol and blood drug analysis capabilities, including being the only agency in southern Nevada qualified to conduct footwear and tire impression evidence comparison, several other agencies have asked for help with their forensic evidence analysis. However, the Henderson lab cannot handle additional work in the existing facility. Henderson’s lab also has backlogs of its own in other areas, such as fingerprint analysis and identification.

Note: Henderson's forensic laboratory conducts most of the DUI blood analysis (alcohol and other drugs) controlled substance analysis, fingerprint comparison, and footwear/tire impression analysis for Boulder City.


As mentioned above, the LVMPD Forensic Lab has the only DNA analysis capability in the region. Unfortunately, the LVMPD lab does not have the capacity to support all of southern Nevada, creating a huge bottleneck. Worse yet, some of their other forensic evidence analysis capabilities, such as blood alcohol analysis and drug analysis (controlled substances, etc.) are significantly backlogged.

LVMPD has extremely limited capability in the type of blood drug analysis that can be conducted, and as mentioned earlier, it has suffered with backlogged evidence analysis requests for many years. To increase the number and type of drugs they can analyze, would further increase their workload and with it, their substantial backlogs.

To further emphasize the evidence analysis backlog problems, LVMPD’s lab outsources much its own blood alcohol, blood drug, and DNA analysis, and suffers from months-long to year(s)-long delays, including up to two years in the area of controlled substance and other drug analysis.


Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory

In southern Nevada the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Lab has years of backlogged rape kits, approximately 6300, containing potential DNA evidence. Approximately 5.3 million dollars in grant funds were awarded to Nevada in September 2015 to help reduce the number of backlogged rape kits. Approximately 4.3 million dollars from those grants funds are expected to be provided to LVMPD, which has the capability to analyze approximately 100 kits annually. Per Kim Murga at LVMPD’s lab, they plan to send a large number of the logged DNA kits to out-of-state labs for analysis, at a rate of 240 kits per month.

While this is encouraging news, much more DNA evidence analysis capacity is in critical need for southern Nevada. This will make a dent, but in many cases comes too late to prevent crimes that it would otherwise have done if not for the backlogs. We must increase DNA analysis capacity throughout southern Nevada, so we can be proactive in preventing these crimes.

Per Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, as reported by the LVRJ, the announcement is a “good new page to turn”, and that resources and protocols will have to be re-examined for future cases. He was also quoted as saying “We have to figure out in the long run if we have the capacity to eventually test these in state and keep up.” “All these new cases flooding into the system, it’s going to cost money. It’s going to need, if not new resources, prioritization of existing resources.” Source: “Grants to help Nevada clear backlog of sex assault DNA kits”, by Wesley Juhl, Las Vegas Review Journal, 9-10-15, http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/grants-help-nevada-clear-backlog-sex-assault-dna-kits

Information Sources: “Grants to help Nevada clear backlog of sex assault DNA kits” , by Wesley Juhl, Las Vegas Review Journal, 9-10-15, at http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/grants-help-nevada-clear-backlog-sex-assault-dna-kits ; and, “Nevada lawmakers approve funds to test backlog of rape kits” , by Ken Ritter, Associated Press, reported in the Las Vegas Sun, 12-16-15 at http://lasvegassun.com/news/2015/dec/16/nevada-lawmakers-being-asked-for-funds-to-test-rap/

Henderson Forensic Laboratory

The Henderson Forensic Laboratory does not have a DNA analysis capability. Space does not exist in the current lab to support the necessary rooms, equipment, and personnel. In addition, the electrical system, as well as the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in the current lab will not support any additional laboratory functions.


Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory

The LVMPD Forensic Laboratory reportedly has typical backlogs of approximately two to six months for DUI blood alcohol analysis, and significantly longer backlogs for blood drug analysis. The lab can only screen and confirm approximately fifteen different drugs in blood, and sends some of the evidence to a private laboratory in another state for analysis.

Henderson Forensic Laboratory

In stark contrast to LVMPD’s much larger lab, the Henderson Forensic Toxicology Laboratory has many capabilities unmatched anywhere in the State of Nevada. Unfortunately, the lab is so small, the capacity cannot be expanded to meet future needs, which limits its ability to help other agencies in southern Nevada.

Henderson is unable to expand forensic evidence analysis capacity due the small size and condition of the current laboratory building. The building was intended for use as a temporary facility in 2005, but funds have not been available to build a correct-size facility. The small and grossly inadequate building has numerous electrical and other facility problems that are cost prohibitive to repair/replace, and the building cannot be enlarged.

The Henderson Forensic Laboratory has the unique capability to complete blood alcohol and blood drug evidence analysis/testing from DUIs in a time frame that allows law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys to review results of analysis in a very short period of time (approximately 2 to 4 weeks as of March 2016). If blood alcohol analysis results are below .08 percent (Nevada’s “illegal per se” law), plus a percentage to allow for statistical measurement uncertainty, the Henderson Forensic Toxicology lab screens the blood for drugs. It conducts qualitative analysis to determine the presence or absence of specific drugs or quantitative analysis to determine the quantity of a drug present for more than 72 different types of drugs, including some synthetic cathinones (bath salts), and inhalants.

This capability helps identify persons who should no longer drive the roadways, preventing accidents and saving lives. It also is instrumental in exonerating drivers who have been suspected and charged for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, but who had not violated the law.

Henderson's lab was the first in Nevada to develop the ability to screen for and confirm Ambien (Zolpidem)in blood, confirming its presence and quantity in the blood of a driver suspected of causing a fatal traffic collision. The lab recently became the first publicly funded forensic laboratory in Nevada to confirm the presence and quantity of Methoxetamine, a designer drug, in blood.


Drug problems in our communities

Improper or illegal use of controlled substances and illicit drugs present serious problems within all communities. Law enforcement is in a continual fight against illegal drug manufacturing, possession, sale, and use. Crimes committed due to drug use and abuse range from burglary, to robbery, and murder. Per the CDC, drug poisoning/overdose resulted in 545 deaths in Nevada in 2014.

Large quantities of drug evidence are collected and submitted to forensic crime laboratories. New designer drugs emerge regularly, requiring crime laboratories to develop new analytical techniques and spend more time on analysis. Both situations add to the substantial evidence analysis backlogs. And in many cases, timely analysis of substances is of critical importance in numerous ongoing investigations, and has a direct effect on successes in drug "buys" and officer safety in certain situations.

Source, 2014 drug related deaths: http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory

As of February 2016, LVMPD's forensic lab apparently has a controlled substance analysis backlog of approximately 1,500 cases that extends two years or more. Unfortunately, that backlog is not for the completion of lengthy analysis and confirmation of a particular drug, but rather, for a simple laboratory presumptive test for drugs suitable for arraignment, pre-trial, etc. he Henderson Forensic Lab handles the drugs only one time, completing the drug screening and confirmation when it is first handles. The backlog can be measured in weeks or a few months, however, the capacity is limited to due the size and other limitations of the current small lab facility.

LVMPD's controlled substance backlog is approximately 1,500 cases that extends two years or more. Unfortunately, that backlog is not for the completion of analysis and confirmation of a particular drug, but rather, for a laboratory presumptive test for drugs (not confirmatory) suitable for arraignment, pre-trial, etc.

If a trial is set after receiving results of the presumptive test, an additional analysis request is submitted to the LVMPD lab for confirmation analysis, causing further delays and adding to the backlogs.

It is easily assumed that this significantly ties the hands of prosecutors, defense attorneys, etc., and hampers the criminal justice system.

Henderson Forensic Laboratory

The controlled substance/illicit drug backlog in Henderson is approximately two to six months, depending on type of case. Again, the small facility prohibits adding forensic scientists or instrumentation, and prevents the increase of analysis capacity.

Note: Henderson's forensic laboratory does most of the DUI blood analysis (alcohol and other drugs) controlled substance analysis, fingerprint comparison, and footwear/tire impression analysis for Boulder City.